Rates and agents of erosion were investigated experimentally at six sites located along a cross shelf transect from the northern Queensland coast out into the Coral Sea. Rates of internal and external erosion of coral blocks, and accretion by coralline algae were measured after 2 years and 4 years of exposure. Blocks were cut from live colonies of Porites sp., which were collected from the outer barrier reef in north Queensland. They were then washed, dried, measured, weighed and attached to grids that were firmly attached to dead coral substrate at depths of 7–10 m. Significant differences in all three parameters were found within and among sites, and rates increased with increasing duration of exposure. Inshore sites were characterized by low rates of external erosion compared to offshore sites. Agents responsible for internal erosion differed among sites, with boring sponges being most abundant on the two inshore reefs, and molluscs most abundant at the offshore sites. Deposit-feeding polychaetes were more abundant at the two inshore sites, while filter and surface deposit feeders were more common at the offshore sites. Net erosion rates varied among sites (1.090±0.499 to 7.846±3.218 kg m2), and the relative importance of the components of erosion changed markedly along the cross-shelf transect.